Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Tamsin Cook moved to Perth with her family in 2007. In 2016 at just 17 years of age, Tamsin was the youngest woman selected for the Australian swimming team at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Swimming the final leg in the women’s 4x200m Freestyle, she came in second, securing the silver medal with her teammates – an unforgettable moment and a career high after eight years as a competitor.
“The memory of standing up on that medal dais in the green and gold with three of my teammates still feels surreal to me,” she says, looking back.
With the Games falling in the middle of her final years at high school, Tamsin undertook a rather unusual path towards graduation – by splitting her Year 12 studies over two years she was able to focus on competing in Brazil and still finish school with the grades needed to attend university. And it was this degree of foresight that would pay off shortly after the Olympics, when she suffered a neck injury that ruled her out of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“After returning home and having a rough patch with injury and motivation I decided to take some time away from the sport to re-evaluate my goals and focus on study,” Tamsin says. Retiring from competitive swimming, she instead started on the path to an undergraduate degree at The University of Western Australia.
Now in her third year of a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Communications and Media, and English Literary Studies, she not only plans to continue her studies after graduation with the prestigious Juris Doctor degree, she has also been able to return to the pool and revive her racing program.
“In May 2020, a good friend suggested we go down to the pool and do some training after not being able to exercise much during lockdown,” she says. “One thing led to another and now I’m back training and competing full time and loving it.”
A crucial factor in Tamsin’s ability not only to complete her degree but also regain her competitive edge has been the flexibility afforded her by her studies.
"When deciding on where to study, the two most important factors in my decision were the level of support the university provided athletes, and the academic standing for my chosen course,” she explains. “Of all my options, UWA best met those two considerations."
“I have been able to do uni part time during heavy training and competition periods. Just this year, with the help of the UWA Student Athlete Development Program (SADP), I was able to adjust my timetable to accommodate my training schedule, and receive special consideration for missing tutorials while I was competing at the Australian Championships.”
You could be forgiven for thinking that studies and sport between them would leave time for very little else, but Tamsin’s degree has also allowed her to branch out into other areas, including a position with UWA Sport. Securing a role as a student athlete support officer, she has been able to pass on her experience as an elite athlete while also imparting skills that will serve her well after graduation.
“During my year with UWA Sport, I most enjoyed the moments when we were able to assist student athletes in really tricky situations,” she says. “Sometimes things happen that are completely out of a person’s control and, in that moment, they really need a good support system to overcome the adversity they are facing. I hope our team was able to be a small part of that support system.
"And in terms of my own personal development, working for UWA Sport greatly improved my employability. From learning how communicate professionally with stakeholders, to organising formal events, to helping run an inter-university multisport competition, the experience I gained will undoubtedly benefit me when I look to enter the workforce again."
With so many opportunities available during her undergraduate degree – and so many of them accessible and achievable with the flexible study programs – the trick is less how to fit them in as making sure you’re aware of what’s on offer.
“UWA has so many resources available for prospective students, including some you may not even know exist,” Tamsin says. “I’ve also done a lot of community outreach work, travelling to regional parts of Western Australia to talk to kids about sport, goal-setting, resilience and more, and I plan to keep that up while I continue studying. In 2019, I even took a semester off to go travelling.
“So take advantage of everything the university offers. And ask questions – if you’re unsure about anything at all, just ask!”